Michigan AG's office to investigate canceled contact-tracing contract

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Attorney General Dana Nessel says her office will investigate a canceled state contract for managing data related to Michigan's COVID-19 contact tracing project.

Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, requested the investigation after the selection of a company with connections to Democratic candidates drew national attention.

"First, I agree that we hold a collective responsibility to ensure accountability and transparency in state government," Nessel, a Democrat, wrote in a letter to Runestad. "These obligations are a direct result of our roles as public servants, irrespective of political party. I also agree that public confidence is bolstered by openness and honesty in the mechanics of how governmental institutions operate.

Attorney General Dana Nessel

"For those reasons, I write to notify you that my office will open an investigation into this matter. Once concluded, our findings will be released to the public."

The original $194,000 contract approved by the group awarded community engagement and data management duties to EveryAction VAN, an arm of a Democratic campaign data management platform, and Great Lakes Community Engagement, which is run by Mike Kolehouse, a Democratic consultant.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer canceled the contract a day after it was announced when reporters began questioning the firms' Democratic ties. 

She said the contract was awarded through the Department of Health and Human Services without final approval from the State Emergency Operations Center.

Attorney General Dana Nessel's office released this letter on Thursday, April 30, 2020.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Serves has said the contract decision was made by a group of public health officials with "support from financial operations administration and IT."

Michigan State Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake

Whitmer recently called the contract an “unnecessary distraction” from Michigan’s coronavirus response. 

"The Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t have a political bone in their theoretical body," she said. "When it was brought to my attention, I told them to cancel it. This was an unnecessary distraction. Leadership is about solving problems. The correct process was not followed."

On Tuesday, Runestad announced he had requested an investigation by Nessel's office into the matter.

“When viewed in its entirety, this entire episode is troubling,” Runestad said in a statement. “I have long pushed for more public transparency — regardless of party. Especially in times of distress, Michiganders are best served when they can trust the openness and honesty of their governmental institutions.

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.